Oct 20, 2015 | By

The American Prairie Reserve

Russ Roberts of Econ Talk has a particular interest in the complex processes by which economic and cultural institutions emerge. He often refers to this process as analogous to building a prairie. While we may know all the component plants and animals that live in the prairie and be able to assemble them in a plot of land, we cannot duplicate the complex dynamic interactions by which a living prairie emerges over time. In a recent episode, Russ interviewed Pete Geddes, Managing Director of the American Prairie Reserve, an ambitious non-profit dedicated to the long term goal of re-establishing a 3.3 million acre prairie in northeastern Montana. The interview provides some fascinating insights on the ecological and institutional challenges of building a prairie, and highlights the many correspondences between the natural biological and the human cultural dynamics.  Many of the challenges rest on “getting the incentives right”  — a challenge we discussed in a broader context in the 2014 FQXi essay The Tip of The Spear.

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